As a person not known for their planning and organizational skills, it may have shocked quite a few people when I actually moved to Mexico. I planned it a few years in advance, with two friends and with a completely different agenda, but even as those friends dropped out, my intention remained firm.
There is a lot to be said for research, and thanks to the internet, that research is surprisingly easy. There are innumerable resources available really no matter where you intend to land, all thanks to those who have blazed trails before you. Use them, listen to them. You might think you are unique, that you can handle a lot more than people give you credit. Like me. You might find you were probably wrong a little bit.
I had the great fortune of traveling to my area of choice, Cancun, Mexico, twice yearly for quite a few years prior to my move, and during these trips I made sure to make contact with and befriend several expatriates in the area. I kept in touch, I asked questions, I gave respect where it was due, I became their mule. I also listened to their complaints, and made notes. When the time came, I was able to arrange a furnished apartment in a fairly centralized neighborhood well ahead of time, thanks to these new friends of mine. Securing accommodations prior to my arrival was probably the smartest thing that I ever did, especially for me, someone who was becoming more and more set in her routine as the years ticked past. It is important to know that picking up stakes and moving to a foreign land is a difficult thing to do mentally, and knowing you have a home is more comforting than you might think.
Daily life in a resort town like Cancun can be challenging. I had very limited Spanish when I arrived, but was confident I would pick up more. I had not even considered that most of the residents were either bilingual or aspired to be, and any opportunity to practice their English was a golden one. Enter the white girl, who has no car and takes a lot of taxis. I would implore them to speak Spanish to me; they would implore me to speak English to them. They generally won.
But because life is not simply riding around in taxis, and includes such mundane tasks as going to the supermarket, doing laundry, and paying one’s electric bill, I had many opportunities to improve my bilingualism. In the beginning, I learned how to ask for a phone card, how to get back to my building, and how to purchase fresh mango from the ladies who trolled the beaches. I learned how to beg for my laundry to be finished by the evening of the same day that I had brought it in. I learned how to call for water from the water guy and how to say “no mayonnaise” for just about everything sold out of the basket of a bicycle at dusk. As time went on, I was able to successfully explain to the neighbors below that I did not, in fact, leave my faucet on, that the leak in their roof was not coming from my apartment. I was able to convince my building manager that even though I was from the United States, and NOT Canada, I was a nice girl. Oregon is a long way from New York in many ways, they found.
Living in Cancun is really not terribly different than living anywhere else in the United States. No matter where you go, you have to adapt. When I moved to Southern California, I learned to calculate driving time into every task I needed to complete. When I moved to Ohio I learned to deal with small-minded mentality. Here, I have learned that some of the stuff you have to deal with in day to day living is really not that big of a deal.
Stuff like no water in the evenings, or the stove not working suddenly, or the overhead light in my bedroom losing its connection. In the grand scheme of things, it’s all adaptation. It’s no big deal. If I wake up one morning and find I have no electricity, or no cable, I learned that I just had to figure out something else to do with my time, and that sooner or later it would come back. I think it made me calmer. I can deal with almost anything now. Almost. Still not a big fan of critters, and I don’t think I ever will be.
Making this move, or any major move, when you are young and in your twenties is hard enough. Doing it on the edge of forty is something else. I went from a comfortable life with money in the bank to a life of making sure I didn’t spend too much money every week, and having crappy purses and wearing the same t-shirts and Birkenstocks every day. I think throughout my life I have learned that you need to be friendly and courteous to people. That helped me immensely in Cancun. People just respond better when you are smiling.
I have also learned that you are nothing if you don’t have friends. I like my solitude, but I love the friends that I have made. I owe that to striking out a little, and if I was uncomfortable at the beginning, it has paid off. I am not so afraid of that anymore.
I have always had compassion for the people in the States for whom English is not their first language. Now I am sympathetic to their plight. Being in a foreign country with the tables turned has taught me that. I am lucky that I lived in a place where having more English is beneficial to the worker when it comes to employment, but not everyone has English and it is disrespectful to not speak the language native to the country in which you live. So you adapt. You learn to speak up even if you think it sounds awful. You learn to have conversations. You learn to type text messages and instant messages in Spanish. Sometimes your thoughts and your dreams have some Spanish in them. It’s funny but I can’t really recall when that happened. I am pleased that in this time it has.
My advice to anyone wanting to make a move somewhere completely different, no matter how long that move might last or how far away, would be to expect everything, be surprised at nothing, and don’t let it get you down if things are not what you expect them to be. What makes our world more exciting is its diversity, and keeping little bits of those wonderful differences in your soul makes you a better person on the inside and the outside.